This second volume of The Chronicles of Prydain starts with Taran, Assistant Pig-keeper and Hero, harshly dealt with by a visiting prince with a big ego and no sense. A surprise visit by Taran's noble friend, Gwydion, on the other hand, thrills the young man. So does the reason for the man's visit: a secret council to decide how to defeat the evil Arawn, who rises in might once more. Many others come to Taran's homestead, whether knowingly for the council or ignorant of the true reason they are present. Old friends like the king-bard Fflewddur and the dwarf Doli join new acquaintances such as Adaon, son of the Chief Bard, Taliesin.Two kings from neighboring realms also come.
At the council, Gwydion brings the dread news of how Arawan has increased the size of his deathless armies. Not only has he stolen corpses and returned them to life to serve him, but he has kidnapped the living as well. Gwydion proposes the audacious plan to enter the enemy's land and destroy the magic cauldron where Arawn breeds his warriors.
The next morning, Gwydion heads away with hand-picked companions, after he secures their free-will assent to accompany him to Arawn's Dark Gate. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this includes the jerk of a prince Taran ran afoul of the beginning of the book. Ellidyr excels at getting on Taran's last nerve, but he also saves the young man's life on more than one occasion.
Gwydion's plan to steal the black cauldron goes off without a hitch until they arrive where the cauldron was supposed to be and discovers someone else already stole it. More bad news follows. Besides the revived corpses who cannot be killed, Arawn's forces include the living, who can be slain, but each death strengthens those who survive.
Taran comes up with Plan B, which not everyone agrees is the best choice. But his companions who were with him on the adventure in the first book follow him into this new peril. The hostile Ellidyr comes along as well but later separates from the group.
Taran begins to second guess himself almost straightaway, but Adaon addresses the young man's concerns. "There is a destiny laid on us to do what we must do, though it is not always given to us to see it." Adaon foresees Taran will come to know grief on his journey, but he also gains wisdom and the courage to make the sacrifices he must to help ensure the success of his quest.
This is a wonderful book about a young boy's path to become a man and a hero. As he grows in moral strength, pity and compassion, he finds the path to adulthood fraught with perils and grief. Yet wise Gwydion tells them there is just as much love and joy as there is pain. I love to be back with the king-bard, Gwydion and Gurgi, not to mention Taran. Great to find another kindred spirit. Now onto the next book!